LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Captain Munnerlyn returned a blocked field goal 81 yards for a touchdown and set up another score with an 84-yard kickoff return as South Carolina defeated Kentucky 24-17 Saturday, improving Steve Spurrier's record to 16-0 against the Wildcats.
South Carolina (5-2, 2-2) won its ninth consecutive meeting against Kentucky (4-2, 0-2), which came in with momentum after nearly upsetting Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Instead, the Wildcats' string of futility against Spurrier is the longest by any team against a single coach other than two losing streaks against Penn State's Joe Paterno.
The game, billed as a field position showdown between two of the Southeastern Conference's top defenses, lived up to that hype, at least until midway through the third quarter. That was when Spurrier, always quick with the hook on his quarterbacks, made a change that paid immediate dividends.
Stephen Garcia replaced a struggling Chris Smelley and led four consecutive drives into Wildcat territory, which the Gamecocks turned into 10 points. It could have been more if not for three missed second-half field goal attempts by Ryan Succop.
With the game tied at 17, South Carolina took the lead for good when Garcia found Weslye Saunders open in the end zone off a playaction pass from 8 yards out. The play was set up by a 37-yard post pattern from Garcia to Jason Barnes. Garcia completed 10 of 14 passes for 169 yards in limited duty.
Kentucky quarterback Mike Hartline got the ball back with an opportunity to tie the game, but an interception by Chris Culliver clinched it for the Gamecocks.
The teams combined for six turnovers. Kentucky's defense got three of its four takeaways in the first quarter yet still trailed by a touchdown at the beginning of the second.
First, Smelley appeared to connect with Kenny McKinley for an 8-yard gain, but Kentucky's Trevard Lindley ripped the ball out of his hands and took it 28 yards to put the Wildcats ahead 7-0.
It didn't take long for South Carolina to respond. Munnerlyn returned Tim Masthay's kickoff 84 yards and was stopped only when Masthay shoved him out of bounds at the Kentucky 16.
Given new life, this time Smelley threw the ball to a place only McKinley could get it -- the corner of the end zone, tying the game at 7.
It was one of few highlights for Smelley, coming off an SEC offensive player of the week performance at Ole Miss. He completed 9 of 23 passes for 105 yards and two interceptions.
Hartline wasn't much better, completing 23 of 43 passes for 152 yards and two interceptions. But he was forced to play most of the game without the team's top receiver, Dicky Lyons Jr. Lyons injured his leg and was in a walking cast and using crutches on the sideline.
On South Carolina's next drive, McKinley broke Sterling Sharpe's South Carolina record with his 170th career reception but immediately coughed up the ball up again. It was recovered by Kentucky's Marcus McClinton.
After the teams combined for three turnovers, the Wildcats had a chance to grab momentum. But Ryan Tydlacka's 29-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Jordin Lindsey and returned 81 yards for a score by Munnerlyn.
Tydlacka later connected on a 51-yard attempt -- the Wildcats' longest since 2004 -- to put Kentucky ahead 17-14 at halftime.